Read California Royale Online

Authors: Deborah Smith

Tags: #Romance, #Fiction, #General

California Royale

California Royale
Deborah Smith
Bantam (2011)
Romance, Fiction, General

Shea Somerton was elegant and glamorous, just like Estate Mendocino, the resort she managed -- but behind her classy facade there was a hint of recklessness in her violet eyes.

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“Couldn’t find a larger towel?” Shea asked, motioning Duke into the tub

“It’d be like putting a raincoat on a Greek statue,” he teased.

She watched, hypnotized despite herself, as he eased down into the mud. His back muscles rippled in a symphony of male perfection, his bronzed body made her want—

“Oink,” he said gruffly.

She chuckled and poured the buckets of mud over his legs and torso.

“Now what?” he asked.

“Now you lie back, close your eyes, and I’ll massage your scalp.”

He rested his head on a pillow and did as she said. Shea smiled, then dumped her last bucket of mud onto his head.

Duke sat up, sputtered, then grabbed for her with both hands. “Take a wallow with me, hellion!”

“Please, no,” she yelped, one second before he pulled her into the tub.

She began laughing helplessly as she sank into the mud between his knees. He shook his head, slinging mud everywhere. “You play hard,
. I like that,” he said in a voice that was half angry, half amused. “But you’ve toyed with a master gamesman. You’ve thrown down a challenge.…”

Shea said, and kissed him.

He went still for a moment, then wrapped his arms around her possessively. Twisting his mouth against hers, the kiss went from giddy to wild to wanton.…

A Bantam Book / September 1988

and the wave device are registered
trademarks of Bantam Books, a division of
Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.
Registered in U.S. Patent
and Trademark Office and elsewhere


All rights reserved
Copyright © 1988 by Deborah Smith
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher
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eISBN: 978-0-307-79661-5

Bantam Books are published by Bantam Books, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. Its trademark, consisting of the words “Bantam Books” and the portrayal of a rooster, is Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in other countries. Marca Registrada. Bantam Books, 666 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10103


To the Young Women’s Luncheon Club,
a lovely and very eccentric group of ladies
who believe in sisterhood, good times,
and white gloves


The last thing Duke Araiza needed was a fat farm.

Estate Mendocino was precisely that, he thought ruefully as he ambled down a corridor decorated with Italian tile, expensive art deco lamps, and oriental rugs. The huge resort embodied frivolous luxury from the tip of its French chateau turrets to the manicured greens of its golf course.

It was late evening. The rich and famous were all in their silk-sheeted beds, he assumed. Duke whistled in his typically nonchalant way as he strolled down the elegant hallway until he came to a door with a placard that read, Mud Therapy and Massage—Women. He hesitated for only a moment, then pushed the door open. He walked through a dimly lit changing room, frowning at the solid-oak lockers and the crystal dispensers full of mineral water.

Ornately carved doors—all shut—lined both sides of the room. But at the end of the hallway one door stood open, and the light poured out. Duke ran a hand through hair as black as a winter night, cleared his throat, and strolled through the doorway.

A woman reclined in a claw-footed tub full of stuff that looked like a chocolate pudding with a bad identity problem. Duke stopped, amazed at the sight of her. Her beautiful small breasts were revealed above the mire that hid the rest of her body.

“So this is mud therapy,” Duke said under his breath. “I could get to like it.”

Her head was tilted back on the rim of the tub, and her eyes were closed. She had draped her slender, slightly muscular arms along either side of the tub. The cinnamon polish on her perfectly manicured nails coordinated with the room’s pink-and-brown color scheme. Everything about her whispered class.

Duke watched the light of a single wall lamp weave golden tones through the wavy hair that flowed over the tub’s edge. That hair he thought, had to match the color of the Spanish gold piece he carried in his pocket. Duke moved quietly to the side of the tub and gazed down at her, fascinated. He could smell her perfume, unobscurred by the damp-clay smell of mud. Roses and cream, old-fashioned and delicate.

Shea Somerton believed in psychic powers, but she was too practical to think that she might have them herself. Now, however, she felt the strangest urge to open her eyes. It was as if a key had been turned somewhere deep in her soul, driving away the restful blank-ness she had sought after a long day’s work. She raised her head languidly and let her eyelids flutter open.

The first things she saw were snugly blue-jeaned thighs below a muscular, broad chest outlined in a clingy white pullover. In the instant of shock that followed, her gaze rose to an angular, richly tanned face with eyes as dark as burnt wood.

Thick black hair was tossled over that face, a strand or two wisping forward to grace an intelligent brow wrinkled in concentration. A heart-stopping man looked
down at her with a slightly chagrined smile—he knew he was someplace he should not be—but his eyes crinkled with laughter.

“I never thought mud could look so good,” he said jovially.

Shea gasped and sank lower in the tub. She was alone here, she realized. It was after ten and the staff was gone, and this exotic looking interloper was staring at her as if she were salsa and he the taco chip.

She composed herself and answered drolly, “The mud won’t look so good if I plaster it over your eyes.
.” She paused, then added, “Please.”

Duke’s smile widened with admiration for her sass. The woman gazing up at him with a mixture of concern and bravado had a somewhat waifish face made unforgettable by a Sophia Loren mouth and turbulent violet eyes. Liz Taylor eyes, that’s what they were. He’d never seen a face like this woman’s.

“Sorry,” he said with sincere apology. “I was just exploring, and I wanted to see what mud therapy involved.” Duke rarely did anything he was told to do, so he didn’t scram. Instead he retrieved a redwood-slat folding chair from its place by one wall of the small room and brought it close to the tub. He turned the chair around so that its back was toward the woman’s wide, beautiful eyes, straddled it, and sat down.

“My name’s Duke,” he said politely.

“Your name is
if you don’t get out of here.” Shea shook her head in exasperation at the inadvertent choice of words.

“Mud.” He grinned. “Speaking of mud, what’s that stuff like? What does it do for you?”

She tilted her head and looked at him with an icy, carefully composed smile. “Sir, are you a guest here?”

“Oh, yes,
. I’ve got money and I’m fully certified.” He reached in a back pocket of his jeans and
produced a guest card. Shea caught only the flicker of green and gold—Estate Mendocino’s colors—but it was enough to tell her that he was legitimate.

“Duke,” she said in her most pleasant management voice, “this area is off-limits to male guests. The men’s mud-therapy room closes at eight o’clock. Weren’t you given instructions when you arrived?”

“Gonna have me tossed out? I wouldn’t blame you.”

“I don’t believe
is necessary. But you really

He gazed at her with a warmth that would fire wet kindling. Now that she could think about something besides the racing of her heart, she noticed that his nose was straight, but had just the slightest hook to it. A fine white scar ran horizontally across the bridge, giving him a tough-guy appearance.

Shea was surprised that she found the look appealing rather than sinister. In her world of pampered and coiffed men, this man was unique. With such black hair and gleaming olive skin, he had to be of Spanish or Mexican background.

“I just got in a couple of hours ago,” he explained. “I was supposed to drive up earlier, but I had a business meeting. I’ll take the official tour in the morning.” One large hand rose in a gesture that included not only the mud-bath room but the whole estate. “I want to see all of cotton-candy land.”

Shea frowned at his derogatory assessment of the resort. This man didn’t have an ounce of flab on a body that must have been well over six feet tall. He was the picture of fitness, and he didn’t look like he needed to relax. He looked as if he were never anything
relaxed. So what was he doing at Estate Mendocino, the hangout of the rich and famous, the flabby and stressed out?

“You don’t sound very enthusiastic about being here,”
she told him, then paused, feeling her skin tingle with an odd mixture of fear and excitement. This definitely was not the mud’s mineral properties at work. “And
not very enthusiastic about your being here.” She indicated the mud-therapy room with a firm movement of her hand. “Really, sir, this is a private … how did you get into this part of the resort after hours? Were the doors to the spa area unlocked?”

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